“I found it!”
Chabashira begins the call with a shout so loud Akamatsu has to hold the phone away from her face.
“My audition tape! Kaede, my Killing Game audition, I found it! I might finally know who I was!”
At this point, other people in the store are turning to stare. Akamatsu turns down her call volume and shifts towards a more secluded area of the store. “ That’s great! I should be home soon, do you want to watch it together?”
The line goes quiet.
“What if I don’t like it?”
“Then we get rid of it. Just like we did with mine. I don’t care if our memories are implanted, they’re enough for me. If we don’t like our old lives, then we get rid of them and move on.”
“… Don’t you want to find your family?”
Akamatsu laughs. “Tenko, they let me sign up. That’s not a family I want. I have you, and I have Shuuichi, and everyone else. Why would I want more?”
“I guess. I’ll get it set up while you’re out.”
“I’m just grabbing a last few things – hold on.” Behind her, she can hear a crowd forming. Quiet gasps, and too many footsteps, and constant murmuring. “I gotta go. I’ll see you soon.”
She doesn’t hear Chabashira’s concerned questioning as she hangs up and turns to face the crowd of curious shoppers. They fall silent as she glares at them, challenging them to continue with whatever insensitive shit they were probably spewing.
One particularly brave – or particularly invasive –girl steps forward. “Are you really Kaede Akamatsu?”
“No,” Akamatsu replies, and pushes her way through the crowd, basket first.
The girl runs after her. “Did you really think you could kill the mastermind that early?”
“I’m trying to do my shopping. Leave me alone, for god’s sakes, I’m just a person.” Akamatsu keeps trying to move forward, ignoring that more and more people have started following again.
The girl stops, tilts her head and laughs a little. “No you’re not.”
Akamatsu considers replying. She considers punching her. She isn’t finished shopping. She walks towards the check-out anyway.
One more shop she can’t return to.
No one recognises her on the way home, thanks to her new wide-brimmed hat and a mask she’d picked up in the store. Her face is burning from the beating sun and tight fabric, but she pulls through it. It’s better than being spotted again. Her only interaction is nodding to a neighbour as she climbs the stairs to their small flat.
Chabashira collapses into her arms as soon as she opens the door, knocking the bags out of her arms, with a wail. Just one thing after another today.
“I watched it,” she sobs. “It was awful – I’m awful.”
Akamatsu wraps her arms around her and leads her into the flat, away from prying eyes and curious ears. “Hush, hush, you’re not awful. That’s not you any more, it’s not you, honey, it’s not.”
Chabashira kept crying as Akamatsu knocks the door closed and tugs her through to sit on the couch. Her audition tape is still up on the her laptop, so Akamatsu slams it shut before Chabashira can see it again and upset herself further. She lets Chabashira bury her head and cry herself out for a while, but eventually has to push her upright and brush the wet hair out of her face. She wipes the tears from her cheeks and plants a kiss on her forehead before putting her hands squarely on Chabashira’s shoulders.
“Tenko, I need you to listen to me, okay? We aren’t our pasts. Those people were wiped out and they deserved it. We don’t need to accept the new lives they gave us, but we don’t need to return to who we were before that either. That tape isn’t you if you decide it isn’t.”
Chabashira looks up at her, eyes already filling with tears again. “I know… I know, I just… Wanted to believe I was someone. That I wasn’t as awful as everyone expected. People kept asking about it, all the time, and guessing at how I was, and… Kaede, it’s like we aren’t even human to them.”
“I know. God, I know, it’s awful, but you need to ignore them. We can’t let them get to us. We’re better than they are, okay? We’re going to be fine, and we’re going to make new identities for ourselves. What the world thinks doesn’t matter. Okay?”
“Okay.” Chabashira rested her forehead against Akamatsu’s. “Okay. We’re okay. We’ll be okay.”